The Age of Excess Information

Too much information rots and stagnates meaningful and critical thinking. People commonly praise the Internet for ushering in a new age of interconnectivity, where a multitude of people can benefit from the vast dissemination of basic, high-quality educational resources for free. Benefits associated with the rise of information and the technology to serve it to the masses find intuitive applications in furthering the gains to be made by a greater degree of collective collaboration and diversity in human thought and efforts. But the reality appears to increasingly deviate from that path.

The Diminishing Marginal Returns of the Internet

Clutter and generally useless content on the Internet is nothing new. The ease of creating a webpage and then filling it up with content means that anyone with a computer and an opinion can sit down and start posting whatever they want or feel is appropriate. Such trends are nothing new, and they’ve been present since around 2005. The Wall Street Journal notes that there are millions of bloggers in a piece published over a decade ago, and most current statistics that you’ll find from a Google search indicate that there are millions of blogs posted daily.

What’s surprising is that people have noticed this shift in the way that information is perceived almost as early as when the Internet first began to gain massive popularity. In fact, Nicholas Carr describes the very possibility of this phenomenon in his notable 2008 essay in The Atlantic aptly titled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”

Carr makes several important remarks on the nature of how information perception and how learning might change as a result of the increased presence and availability of that information. Remarking on his own experiences, Carr writes “Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages.” He highlights the idea that the quantity of information may be forcing our brains to develop adaptive strategies to process and understand that volume and extract the useful bits.

While it appears as a distant concern of the past, I believe that Carr’s considerations are now more relevant and actually more apparent than ever. The increasing presence of large corporations on the Internet coupled with a proportional slew of content that aims to establish a narrative rather than to inform has left many wondering and tenuously navigating between useful content, noise, or a combination of both.

There is Fine Print Everywhere Now

Lost are the days of journalistic integrity and lost are the days where people posting genuinely useful information can be found almost immediately. I remember a time when I could Google a subject and I didn’t have to go through a whole list of considerations about which sources were credible and which weren’t before finally deciding to click on a webpage to check it out. If you want to know something now, there’s always a catch.

Nowhere is this more problematic than when you search for advice for anything on Google. There exists an entire $65 billion market surrounding SEO, which essentially aims to maximize the ranking of sites with respect to certain search terms across popular search engines.

The premise of Google makes the most sense when people are not trying to game the system by spending large sums of money to get their content ranked higher, since it implies that Google result rankings are now sorted based on a combination of who has invested in the best SEO strategies and who has decent content. Legal concerns and economic interests now play a significant part of what you can and can’t find on search engines.

Recycled Information and Incentivization Ruin Connectivity’s Benefits

When it comes to common advice, the Internet has morphed into this grotesque hunting ground for suckers and gullible people. Let’s say you want to be more financially aware. Perhaps you’re looking for ways to generate a consistent income and eventually to turn those income streams into something passive.

Check out the results of a Google search for “how to make passive income.” One thing you’ll notice is that almost all of the articles on the first page are listicles, or articles that consist of the headline “X ways to do/achieve Y.” I can unequivocally say that most of these articles are useless and that they come with a big catch attached to them.

I chose this example because it is ironic in the sense that the people who are searching for how to make passive income and then clicking and reading on “tips” regarding the subject actually provide and act as the source for the passive income of the people who are hosting the site. The facade is much easier to grasp when you see how formulaic some of the articles and results are. Frequently, a majority of the tips and advice given on one site are just reworded slightly and reposted.

The anonymity that allowed for users to possess a degree of freedom on the Internet in the past is now is to obfuscate the relationships between companies and paid promoters. The nature of the Internet should receive greater concern as it hurdles towards transforming into a giant billboard for advertisers.

Written by Agnes W. May 8th, 2018